… for the five people who are still reading this blog. Two of whom might be interested in this discussion. This is really a really old follow-up. It will be followed by a discussion on icons and the early church.
Okay! Dan wanted to know why a post about a squid garners a bunch of comments, while a post on some fine point of theology receives a paucity of the same. Let me tell you why…
It is because a Giant Squid will never damn a man to Hell or corrupt his religion. Heck, it can’t even pull a ship to Davy Jones’ Locker, contrary to Mr. Jules Verne. So it is easy to jump in, leave your funny/snarky/ironic/superfluous comment and you know that no one is going to get seriously hurt.
Our beliefs concerning the nature of God, His economy and His grace on the other hand… well, that is another matter entirely. Flippancy on those threads seems a bit unseemly.
One might be tempted to get silly with this topic. So, don’t take anything away from this as my attempt at silliness. However, relics are nothing if not mockable. Calvin once wrote of how many pieces of the cross there were floating about,
“if we were to collect all these pieces of the true cross exhibited in various parts, they would form a whole ship’s cargo. The Gospel testifies that the cross could be borne by one single individual; how glaring, then, is the audacity now to pretend to display more relics of wood than three hundred men could carry!”
My reason for posting these couple of posts is not to poke my finger under the bony rib of someone long dead, but to make the case that at the heart of relic worship veneration is a Gnostic rhythm, keeping beat for the whole lot of them.
In my previous post I left for your reading pleasure the pertinent section of the Council of Trent. A couple of things to notice about that little section of Trentine wisdom:
First, the title suggests two main topics: 1) Saints and 2) Images. We, as adorers of the Saints, are told two things about the dead Saints (they have to be dead): 1) They are to be invocated and 2) they intercede (I assume in response to the invocation, but I may be wrong). We are told precious little about the relics of the Saints, but what we are told is instructive.
Let me just say that Matthew Peterson and John Paul Pope were correct in saying that the relics of Saints are far from Gnostic. They are material objects and the object itself is venerated. There is a desire to be healed through physical contact with a shin bone or a tooth and in that sense I think the gnosticism gets pushed aside.
But, I think there is something beyond the bone or tooth. There is no real hope that the finger of St Anne will write a message on the wall of the church. No, but there is an expectation that Anne will hear your prayer because you bow down and worship venerate Anne through her decaying flesh. If she does hear your prayers you will be healed.
In all of this there is a despising of life lived now. To worship venerate a relic and a saint we are looking to the great beyond for our help. There is another spiritual plane that, once reached, gives the saint power to heal, bless, care for, keep from sinking, enrich or temper an appetite of someone far off. Anne may have been a wonderful lady, but the things she did before she left her body simply stored up an ethereal substance, called grace, that can be transferred when called upon. It is that substance we are after in our worship veneration. In relics there is an attempt to reach beyond the body to tap into what the body cannot do, that is help in some supernatural manner.
It is in that sense I do not think worshipers venerators are looking at the matrial world for help at all.